The Shameless Profiting from the MLK Memorial

September 8th, 2011 at 12:13 pm | 61 Comments |

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If you don’t agree that the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial has problems because the statue looks like a monument to Kim il-Sung, then maybe you will find this argument from The Root more convincing.

It turns out that MLK’s family has a history of extracting large royalties from any attempt to use MLK’s image. It also seems that the family’s request for payment for a memorial on the National Mall is unprecedented. According to the article, “[T]he National Park Service said that, to its knowledge, no one had ever before charged such a fee.”

The builders of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial at the National Mall had to pay $761,160 for the right to use King’s words and images, according to financial documents obtained by the Associated Press. The money went to Intellectual Properties Management Inc. — a foundation controlled by King’s youngest son, Dexter. Another $71,000 was paid out in a “management fee” to the family estate back in 2003.

I hope I’m not the only one who found the opening of this monument soured by what could be considered extortion. In any case, I’m especially ticked off, perhaps because I was an activist and organizer in the Southern freedom movement of the 1960s.

I cannot know this for sure, of course, but I doubt that the family of the murdered John F. Kennedy would charge a fee to a group organizing to place a memorial to him on the National Mall. As historian and King biographer David Garrow told the AP, “I don’t think the Jefferson family, the Lincoln family [or] any other group of family ancestors has been paid a licensing fee for a memorial in Washington.”

The King children have long tried to make a buck off their martyred dad, demanding money even when his name is invoked in celebration. In the 1990s, the King children sued USA Today and CBS News for broadcasting their father’s “I Have a Dream Speech” without payment. They won; a court declared the speech a “performance” and, thus, subject to copyright laws.

I will not denounce the trivializing of King’s remarks that this decision reflects, but I must note that the King children have sold the right to use that speech in commercials to Alcatel, a French telecommunications giant.

None of this diminishes the importance of the King Memorial, but this writer, anyway, wishes that even at risk of delay, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation had called young Dexter out on his shameless profiteering.

Recent Posts by Noah Kristula-Green

61 Comments so far ↓

  • Chris Balsz

    I bet the Founding Fathers are turning in their graves. “Why didn’t we think of that? We could be earning right now.”

    He was not a public servant, he was a private citizen, and I prefer this sort of thing to watching MLK computer-edited into a beer commercial. The “scandal” for the taxpayer is that we agreed to pay without dickering it down.

    • Smargalicious

      MLK himself was a cheater, a liar, a plagiarizer, an adulterer, a sexual predator, and a communist sympathizer, all the while parading as a man of God.

      Something like this is only expected, usual behavior from this individual’s descendants.

      • Chris Balsz

        President Grant, for instance, was worried about providing for his family after his death; if he had thought of this I’m sure he would have.

  • D Furlano

    You can’t have it both ways.

    If you let companies copyrights in perpetuity you cannot expect that there are unintended consequences.

    • balconesfault

      you cannot expect BUT that there are unintended consequences

      or perhaps cleaner

      you can expect unintended consequences

      Otherwise – your point is spot on. Damn Mickey!

  • Watusie

    Another example of the right being shocked – SHOCKED – when someone asserts their property rights. I’ve lost count of how many Republicans politicians have had to stopped from ripping off musicians. When will you people realize that just because you think it doesn’t make it right?

  • SydneyCarton

    We get it. You don’t like black civil rights leaders.

    Really … what makes this a FrumForum story?

  • drdredel

    A) You’re taking “they all look alike” to new lows if you have a hard time distinguishing between the facial characteristics of Kim il-Sung and MLKJr.

    B) I don’t know the details of this case, but as D Furlano noted, I’ll get upset about this when I see some outrage about Disney or Time Warner or any of the others who keep paying off our politicians to extend copyright by decades and decades.
    Most recently you may have heard that the record companies are going to try to assert (and most likely the judges will back them, knowing how they feel about these things) that musicians were employees when they recorded their works, and are therefore ineligible to get their rights back. And the money we’re talking about there is billions of dollars, not some measly ~700 thousand.

    • Chris Balsz

      You’d think any potential profits would be wiped out when they are sued by thousands of women who were rendered drunk or drugged and then sexually assaulted by these “employees”. Not to mention the lawsuits in every state for nonpayment of overtime, violation of minimum wage laws, etc.

      I think it’s more likely the courts would recognize contractors for what they are.

      • TerryF98

        You really must be on crack or you have some prescription drug problem. Oxycontin perhaps.

        It’s the only thing that can account for you irrational ramblings.

        • Chris Balsz

          Does Axl Rose get paid to sit in the studio and fail to come up with anything good? If he’s an employee of a record label, the law requires that he be paid.

      • drdredel

        While I sincerely hope you’re right (re: the courts) I’m going to watch this unfold with much interest and not assume anything… Last I heard, corporations were people too!

  • Frumplestiltskin

    D Furlano is right, if by “shameless” you mean entirely legal, then what is to be done? Well, we can return to previous copyright laws as laid out at the beginning of the republic or we can go somewhere in between, but whining about it is useless. Yes, it would be nice if the King family had any sense of shame, but they don’t. Hell, if I could get millions of dollars off my own fathers likeness I might even feel entitled to it, and considering how they paid the price for his early death might even feel this moreso.

    Change the law or don’t but argue it on its merits and leave cheap emotionalism aside

    To be honest I don’t know the answer. Should Mickey Mouse now be public domain? What would then happen to the Walt Disney company? At the same time calling the “I have a dream” speech performance is sad.

  • Graychin

    Yes, our “intellectual property” laws are FUBAR.

    But if you guys are going to defend Sony and Disney when writing the laws, don’t blame the King family when they take advantage of them.

    This subject is getting tiresome. We get it – the Frum Forum writers don’t like the King memorial. Probably didn’t much approve of King himself, King being on J. Edgar’s list of pinko commies and all.

    And King had extramarital affairs! The horror!

    If blacks would just start voting Republian, would your attitude towards King change? Maybe. Maybe not.

  • TerryF98

    The free market in action! Good for them.

  • rbottoms

    You do know black people like their preachers to be successful?

    Who. Gives. A. Damn.

  • Noah Kristula-Green

    Do I need to actually point out in the comments thread that I agree that Disney is an egregious abuser of copyright laws? Where have I ever said otherwise?

    • Watusie

      Do you think we are all mind readers, or that we somehow know that we are to think that you think exactly what we think unless you state otherwise?

      Perhaps you could learn from these comments that this was a shoddy, pointless, useless post.

      • TerryF98

        At least Noah does not normally knowingly lie, and he does not normally make shit up from whole cloth unlike some “writers” here.

  • balconesfault

    While I’m really disgusted by all the attempts to compare the imagery to Communist iconography … I kind of agree with The Root.

    Had the King family demanded royalties, I’d either demand that the money paid be directed straight through with minimal adminstrative fees to appropriate charities, or I’d have made the monument a bas relief of the following image, and let them come after me for it.

    • Frumplestiltskin

      sorry, but I don’t see having a monument that shows only the back of the head of the person being honored to be suitable. Yes, I would have preferred another cast of the monument, or even a bas relief from that speech that showed MLK from the front, but that picture means nothing to me.

      • balconesfault

        Then leave an open space on the mall, with the marker “this space is a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. A monument bearing his likeness will be constructed when the King Family grants permission.”

        I find the whole business more than unsavory. Grifters should not be rewarded.

  • EtherGnat

    I’m a little surprised by this, but (as usual) this report leaves out a big part of the story.

    I want to know how they’re using this money. If they’re funding charity work and programs that further the vision of MLK then more power to them.

    If they’re using it to buy a bigger house and a Cadillac I find that unfortunate. That’s an issue for their conscience to deal with though. I still don’t see how it reflects negatively on the monument itself.

    • PracticalGirl

      I agree- how they spend the money isn’t the point. Do we ask the same question of political figures who make money off their memoirs? Clinton, for example- Is it wrong that he used his first book proceeds to balance a lifetime as a public servant with a salary to match? Do we feel free to question how other writers’ families, like the Hemingway family for example, use the royalties from his books? Is it conscience-free and selfish for Bob Marley’s family to use the money made from his songs to support (and very well) that enormous family/extended family that they have?

      The King family does have a large foundation that is at least in part funded by royalties associated with the content he generated, even his very name. But really- why does that matter? The content does not belong to the public, and if they chose to buy cocaine and shiny things with all the money it’d be none of our business. Unfortunate, perhaps, but NOOB.

      • balconesfault

        It matters because it’s money being spent by the National Park Service … and it’s money being spent specifically for the preservation of the memory of MLK.

        This isn’t like a piece of ground … once the Parks Service utilizes MLK’s image, it’s not as if suddenly the utility of the image is diminished for the MLK estate.

        Perhaps the monument should have been something simpler then – just a black onxy obelisk with a plaque. The King family can certainly decide to demand whatever they want for the use of MLK’s image and words … I would prefer that my government had told them to go pound sand, and modified the monument to avoid copyright infringement.

        • PracticalGirl

          How many others involved were asked to donate their work/materials to the project? The sculptor’s profile will certainly be raised due to his work being seen at a national monument, and could possibly be in line for future and greater profits because of it. The people who installed it can advertise that they’re so good, even the US government hires them. Lots and lots of futrue blue sky. Did they waive their fee? Should we demand that they do so?

          I guess I don’t really understand the ire directed towards the King family in this instance, any more than I understand those who think music stolen off the Internet is “free”.

        • balconesfault

          How many others involved were asked to donate their work/materials to the project?

          If someone gives their labor, that is time they will never be able to recover. If someone gives a big chunk of stone, that is a good they will not have available for other purposes.

          Your point about the sculptor is interesting … but of course he has no guarantee that this commission will lead to future work … and again, I expect that he spent a ton of time on this project and I would expect compensation.

          The point of this monument is to bestow one of the nation’s greatest honors on MLK.

          Consider what *I* think is an appropriate analogy. Last winter Obama presented the President’s Medal of Freedom to Stan Musial, among others.

          Stan Musial can probably demand an appearance fee pushing 5 figures any time he shows up to a baseball card convention or to shake hands at some corporate function.

          What if Musial had responded to the invitation from the White House by replying “for $25,000, I’ll be happy to show up and allow President Obama to place a medal around my neck”.

          What would your opinion of Stan the Man be then?

        • Watusie

          “What would your opinion of Stan the Man be then?”

          Well, according to your logic, it depends upon the state of his health. If he was very frail and feared he might not live to do another appearance, then it would be perfectly OK for him to demand whatever sum of money he thought he could command.

        • balconesfault

          If he was very frail and feared he might not live to do another appearance…

          I’m pretty sure we’re not seeing any particular change in MLK’s health in the near term.

        • Watusie

          That’s not a reply. That is trying to change the subject because you see that your own proffered examples don’t work. So maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to condemn the King estate for not following this moral code of yours given that you yourself can’t elucidate it.

      • EtherGnat

        I mostly agree with you.

        If you’re accepting public money for a public memorial and using it to enrich yourself I reserve the right to think poorly of you for it though. I don’t see any broad implications in it, and it’s a free country. I just doubt it’s the way MLK would have wanted his legacy to be honored. Trying to bring it into some kind of broader, political argument is just stupid though.

  • PracticalGirl


    From the very first commenter: “He was not a public servant, he was a private citizen…”

    End of story. I presume that everybody involved with this project, from the sculptor to the installers, were paid a fair wage for their contribution. Why is it “shameless” for the estate of the architect of the entire movement that makes this a fitting memorial and the writer of the very words “I have a dream…” to also be paid a fair wage?

    Like it or not, Dr. King’s work is protected as original content. The “Napster” climate that pervades this country has numbed your generation against respect for the value (to the artist) of most original works, but it doesn’t mean that the governing laws are wrong, and it doesn’t make the King family “shameless”- just smart.

    • Watusie


      Ever been to Gettysburg? Where so many fought and died in order to preserve our country? Are you aware it was PURCHASED from the farmers who owned the land? Nobody just swanned in and said “well, this belongs to everyone now, sorry about that you little people.”

      Private property. What a concept.

  • baw1064

    Of course, two can play at this game.

    As an example, many cities have major streets named after MLK. And, they’re short of cash right now.

    So, just write a letter to the Estate that they have decided to open the “naming rights” of the street to the highest bidder. So Donald Trump could pay to have it named after himself, or the Koch Brothers could pay to have it named after Ayn Rand… But, because they’re such considerate people, they’re giving the Estate the right of first refusal to pay the city $100K to have the street named after MLK for another 20 years.

    • Chris Balsz

      Please don’t give my Board of Supervisors ideas. They’re all California politicians.

      • baw1064

        Beats a tax increase, you have to admit.

        • D Furlano

          Hershey highway.

          Sorry, I had to.

        • baw1064

          That’s fine, provided you shake as much money out of them as possible to keep their name on it.

        • Chris Balsz

          They’d do both: sell out MLK Blvd, and then hike the per-foot property tax assessment for the added value created by abutting fabulous SoCalEdison Block at MLK Blvd.

  • jquintana

    I don’t have a problem with King’s descendants profiting from the use of his name and likeness in private enterprise. For example, if Anheuser-Busch paid the King family to use his name and image to sell more Bud Light, great, I’m all for it. But when they start charging the American taxpayer to do so, I have a problem with it.

    Build the monument on the taxpayer’s dime? Great. A beautiful monument honoring one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. Charge the taxpayers for the rights to use the name and likeness of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Corrupt.

    • Watusie

      How can it possibly be “corrupt” to enforce one’s property rights?

      Ever been to Gettysburg? Was it “corrupt” of all those horrible PA farmers to sell their land so the memorial could be built?

      How about the land where Flight 93 crashed on 9/11. Shall we just take it to build a memorial? And then also take all the hundreds of acres surrounding it to build the necessary roads and what not, and to prevent tacky tourist shacks from popping up all around it? Is it “corrupt” for the people who own that land to expect compensation for the government acquiring it?

      Or is it only “corrupt” when black people are involved?

    • balconesfault

      I don’t call it corrupt. Just unsavory.

      And please Watusie – don’t confuse this with farmers selling their land. Once they sold their land to the federal government, they could no longer use it. Thus, their only potential for ever receiving any benefit from their property was to sell it.

      The King Family has future revenue that they can expect to gain from copyright of MLK’s image and words. That future revenue is totally unaffected by the Federal Government memorializing Dr. King. In fact, there’s a good argument to be made that the memorial enhances their future revenues.

      It was, imo, unsavory for the Kings, and a stupid decision by the Parks Service.

      • Watusie

        You having future earnings potential from other sources has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on X’s right to help themselves to your property – even when X is the federal government.

        Do you think the makers of that Atlas Shrugged turkey refused to first purchase the rights from Rand estate, on the grounds that the release of the movie would enhance their future book sales, and therefore they should be happy with just that?

        • balconesfault

          You having future earnings potential from other sources has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on X’s right to help themselves to your property – even when X is the federal government.

          I am not disputing the King families right to ask for payment.

          I am asserting that the US government had a fiduciary responsibility to tell the King family “then we will find a way to honor MLK’s legacy that does not infringe on your copyrite”. I consider the payment a poor use of taxpayer money.

          Consider this … if the family truely wanted MLK to be honored such, the foundation would have been donating to the effort, not profiting from it. I would take their decision to ask for money as a sign that they do not feel that this is truly an honor, and therefore I would respect their wishes and scrap plans for the monument.

  • Oldskool

    This news is dated even in my slow moving world.

  • Houndentenor

    Are you making a similar complaint about the relatives continuing to profit from copyrighted material? Are you similarly bashing Ira Gershwin’s descendents? Walt Disney’s? Richard Rodgers? John Steinbeck’s? All of them make money from royalties from works someone else created.

    If you want to change the copyright law, fine. Otherwise, your argument has no merit.

    • EtherGnat

      If Gershwin’s heirs are making a buck by licensing Rhapsody in Blue for a car commercial more power to them.

      If Salinas, California wanted to build a monument to Steinbeck and his heirs wanted to charge the city $500,000 to use a passage from Of Mice and Men as part of the monument I might find it a bit distasteful, depending on what the money would ultimately be used for.

      Regardless I don’t see any political issues, and I can’t understand why FrumForum is reporting it other than to just throw a bunch of crap against the wall and see what sticks.

      • dugfromthearth


        Making money from a movie about King is one thing, demanding money so someone can make a non-profit memorial of him is terrible.

      • Houndentenor

        This post was yet another obvious attempt from the writer to besmirch the King legacy without attacking Dr King himself. Fail.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    one thing that was left unmentioned is that our tax dollars are not paying for the memorial, it is nearly entirely privately funded.
    Here is a little from wiki: As of December 2008, the foundation had raised approximately $108 million,[28] including substantial contributions from such donors as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,[27] The Walt Disney Company Foundation, the National Association of Realtors,[29] and filmmaker George Lucas. The figure also includes $10 million in matching funds provided by the United States Congress.

    Now you might criticize the 10 million from Congress, that is fine, but no way in hell is any of that money going to the King family.

  • Steve D

    The idea that you can copyright a historic act is light years beyond stupid. What’s next: Al-Qaeda copyrighting 9-11? US Airways copyrighting the Miracle on the Hudson? Bush copyrighting the Iraq War?

    • jquintana

      I just registered my last belch with the Copyright Office…it had a nice ring to it.

  • armstp

    “If you don’t agree that the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial has problems because the statue looks like a monument to Kim il-Sung, then maybe you will find this argument from The Root more convincing.”

    Noah, are you purposely using a picture that does not include the other 2/3rds of the MLK monument?

    Like everything, you conservatives like to provide no context, I guess.

    If you look at the entire monument it shows MLK coming out of the mountain. A very powerful monument.

    Take a look at the full picture at the link below and you decide whether this is a good monument and a very powerful monument.

    • Balsack

      Thank you very much for providing a better perspective of this monument, ARMSTP. And I think everyone should view this from all sides.

      But, still, I just agree with Noah that this seems quite like a North Korea piece of monument to me.

      Still, as we should all recall, sometimes the monuments which are originally so detested become the same ones which are most loved and revered in later years. And perhaps this may prove true for the MLK monument as well.

      Still, there is NO DENYING that at first glimpse of the monument, NOAH of Noah’s Ark, is entirely correct in his thinking.

      Noah is fckng DEAD ON with his first impression about this MLK monument. What first comes to mind is North Korean crap, FOR GOD DAMNED SURE. The first 1/4 second looking at this monument, then it hit me between the eyes like a big pizza pie…. This is either Kim or his father.

      And, sir, if I had to bet my shorts, then I would bet that this is totally intentional. Just another example of dumbed down racism rearing it ugly head, again.

      Beauty is not something to be judged so very quickly. Art is something which sometimes takes years to appreciate. As we all know.

      But sure as sht. Noah is FCKING DEAD ON when he says that this monument is almost exactly reminiscent of North Korea bullsht. NO ONE CAN FAULT NOAH FOR JUST STATING THE GOD DAMNED OBVIOUS!!!!

  • Steve D

    I totally understand why blacks revere MLK. The video of Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from Star Trek) recounting her meeting with him on the set of Star Trek is incredibly moving. So if MLK’s admirers are okay with the proposed monument, it’s not my job to gainsay them.

    But all of us are less free because of the regulatory forces that he helped spawn. The time to stop the surveillance society wasn’t 9-11, it was when the government decided it could police all business decisions in the name of fairness. If you want to stop discrimination, do it in a way that targets the actual offenders, not give the government broad authority over everyone.

    And why is MLK Day so sacrosanct? Why was Arizona bullied into making it a State holiday by the threat of a convention boycott? (They should have fought back. Sure, go to some other state to see the Grand Canyon. Hold your winter convention in Fargo.) Although for some strange reason, we can’t be bothered to honor Washington and Lincoln separately any more.

  • Balsack

    Hate to say it.

    BUT. The MLK monument reminds me of a North Korea monument to KJI. Or, his father.

    Does anyone know who designed this monument? Please, don’t tell us the KKK, or Jacky K.

    And why was this monument all in STARK WHITE parody?

    Is this just the last affront to sensibility after we fought for the end of slavery?

    Truthfully, this monument is a travesty to our sensibilities.
    Pls tear it down and build a new one.
    I will be glad to provide as much as I can afford.

  • Balsack

    Dear Noah, of Noah’s Ark,

    This time. You truly hit the nail on the head! It was really serendipitous. Because you obviously came to the exact same conclusion as did I. Just as soon as you had seen this MLK monument in white.

    But, Noah from Noah’s ark, one only needs to gaze on this monument for less than a second to realize that this is true North Korean State Sculpture at its very best.

    And, while probably most Americans do not realize what you realize, after you have grown up in Japan, still, any god damned American worth his salt that has spent 40 years in Asia, should be able to tell you that this monument is PURE NORTH KOREAN crap.

    Thank you very much for pointing this out.

    As I say. It only takes about 1/4 second for the mind of men who have lived in Asia for a reasonable period of time to understand that this monument is UTTER North Korean Monument art, the same types which glorify the Great Leader.

    This crap should be torn down immediately. And rebuilt by some artist with sensitivity.

    If you wish my input regarding who might be one to help in finding the best sculptor to do the deed? Then I would need to suggest the same gal who did the Vietnam War Memorial.

    SURE! MAYA LIN could do a great job.

    That lady is one very fine and sensitive example of what is best about us.
    There is not one person around here or there that does not very much respect her work.

    I have listened to Maya Lin interviewed many times.
    And, even though I have no love for humans, in general.
    Still, Maya Lin is not too shabby.

    Actually, Maya Lin is so very fcking great. We do need great artists, today. Here is an interview with Maya Lin. But you can find plenty more.

    • Balsack

      Maya Lin has truly shown us that our culture has progressed a long way. We used to keep the Chinks working on the Railroad. We used to refuse Chinese men the ability to bring their women and children to the great US of A.

      But of course. You know the derivation of the word, Chink, don’t you? This probably refers to the people of the Qing Dynasty. And I don’t even think you can find this fact on Wikipedia. So give me 2 cents and I can tell you much more about China.

      The point is, I think. If the US had welcomed many more people from China back when it should have. Then the US would have an even stronger more vibrant country, today.

      OR: Ching Chong Ling Long, for all you guys out there who are not able to appreciate the true greatness of DIVERSITY in our lives.



      Even, Noah, TWO BY TWO, realizes that FRUMFORUM requires a CHINA DESK. But pls find an editor for your new China Desk who is smarter about China than all the guys on FrumForum, today.
      But, sorry. My Chinese dog is not available to edit the new FrumForum China Desk. He spends his time sleeping, mostly. Whenever he is not rooting for real or imagined Republican/Democrat parasites in his fur.